Too few people take seriously the problem of underage drinking

A strange silence has descended on the Grand Valley do-gooder community, ever since a party at a certain Grand Junction home was rudely interrupted by the local constabulary.

Police officers responding to a neighbor’s phone call on Feb. 6 discovered a party going on in the absence of the homeowner.

Some 35 teens aged 14 to 18 had gathered, many of them uninvited, some of them toting booze.

This is a sad tale, but it’s not about the party itself.

It’s about a general, casual and pervasive social license for underage drinking that resulted in the invasion of the home District Attorney Pete Hautzinger while Hautzinger was out of town.

Consider what actually happened: The scions of the cream of Grand Valley society nodded blankly when some junior genius proposed to obtain beer illegally, transport it illegally, consume it illegally and en masse, in the home of the district attorney, the chief prosecutor in the county, expecting (ultimately, and much the amazement of the participants, erroneously) that nothing could go wrong.

None of them apparently recognized that this idea was bone-headed on a cosmic scale, much less considered the possibility of embarrassment at minimum, bodily damage at worst.

It’s reasonable to infer that some of those who attended, possibly the very young souls just described, drove to the party and fully intended to drive home, if not make a few stops along the way. Not to put too fine a point of it, we can only suppose what might have happened had one of the party participants hopped behind the wheel and careened into an accident of one sort or another.

The parents of those children should be thanking someone on high for preventing that from happening. There is a lot wrong with this tale, but the first is the relative calm with which the news of 24 juveniles being issued MIPs, or charges of being a minor in possession of alcohol, has been greeted.

That ain’t the Colorado River running through town anymore. We’re now navigating Denial. And losing ground.

Let’s not tick down the list of Grand Valley teens who have been buried in recent years as an unfortunate by-product of intoxication. Let’s not run the numbers of MIPs that are issued with Teutonic regularity in Grand Junction. Let’s not summon the handwringers.

Let’s do this:

✔ Admit that everything that has been tried has failed. Miserably.

✔ Concede that there is a ubiquitous, weirdly permissive approach in the Grand Valley among adults to juvenile intoxication. It’s OK, until someone gets killed or seriousl injured. Then it’s lawsuit time.

✔ Cry Havoc!

No one pays much attention to MIPs because they’re legally such small potatoes. Some kids have more MIPs than they have Ds on their report cards, and they have lots of Ds.

The lack of legal heft to the MIP charge means there is little impetus to find out who supplied alcohol to underage drinkers.

But if juvenile drinking were a more serious offense — say something that might imperil one’s admission to college — it might give prosecutors a wedge to loosen lips about the sources of illicit booze.

If the Legislature wanted to do something real to reduce long-term costs and improve the quality of lives, it would take the few shekels it still has and put it toward serious prosecution of underage drinkers — and their parents.

Family night in the drunk tank might do wonders. At least they’d be off the road for a few hours.

There have been dumber ideas— AIG bonuses, New Coke, drinking one’s self to sleep in the captain’s quarters of the Exxon Valdez, winter assaults on Moscow — but few as illustrative of the failure of the way we deal with, or fail to deal with, teen drinking.

No more winks and nudges. We should take action now, rather than wait until somone else is mangled by a drunk driver not even out of high school.


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